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What Congress Has in Store for You in 2008

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Inactive Duty Training Travel Costs. Section 631 of the act authorizes the payment (up to $300) to reserve members (in certain critical jobs), performs inactive duty training or attends a unit training assembly outside of the commuting limits of the member's station for the purpose of maintaining mission readiness. To be eligible for the payment, the member must be:

    (1) qualified in a skill designated as critically short by the Secretary concerned;

    (2) assigned to a unit of the Selected Reserve with a critical manpower shortage or in a pay grade in the member's reserve component with a critical manpower shortage; or

    (3) assigned to a unit or position that is disestablished or relocated as a result of defense base closure or realignment or another force structure reallocation.

Death Gratuity Beneficiaries. The purpose of the Death Gratuity is to provide immediate cash payment to survivors of military personnel until other benefits, if any, become available. Under law, the beneficiary(ies) are designated in the order of eligibility with the surviving spouse first, followed by the children. As part of last year's National Defense Authorization Act, Congress allowed service members to designate up to 50 percent of the death gratuity (in 10% increments) to a person other than the recipient under law. This authority ended on September 30, 2007.

Section 645 of the the new bill makes this designation authority permanent by removing the Sept. 30, 2007 termination date, and eliminates the 50 percent cap. The new language allows service members to designate more than one individual to receive the Death Gratuity. However, if the member has a spouse and elects to designate all or a portion of the gratuity to individual(s) other than the spouse, the act requires that the spouse be notified. If the member does not make a designation, or designates only a portion of the amount payable, the amount of the death gratuity not covered by a designation shall be paid as follows:

    (1) To the surviving spouse of the person, if any.

    (2) If there is no surviving spouse, to any surviving children of the person and the descendants of any deceased children by representation.

    (3) If there is none of the above, to the surviving parents of the person or the survivor of them.

    (4) If there is none of the above, to the duly-appointed executor or administrator of the estate of the person.

    (5) If there is none of the above, to other next of kin of the person entitled under the laws of domicile of the person at the time of the member's death.

The new provisions are effective on July 28, 2008 unless the Secretary of Defense decides to implement them earlier.

Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance. The military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) provides an annuity for the survivors of those who die while serving in the Armed Forces and those who have retired from the Armed Forces. For the surviving spouses of those who die of injuries or illness suffered in the line of duty, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a monetary benefit known as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or DIC. However, under current law, if a surviving spouse or former spouse is eligible to receive both benefits, the SBP benefit is offset on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Section 644 of the act authorizes a monthly survivor indemnity allowance "equal to $50 or the same amount of the SBP annuity subject to the DIC offset should it be a lesser amount, for FY 2009, $60 per month for FY 2010, $70 per month for FY 20011, $80 per month for FY 2012, $90 per month for FY 2013, and $100 per month after FY 2013. These payments become effective October 1, 2008 and terminate effective March 1, 2016. Under this language, SBP-eligible surviving spouses or former spouses who are also eligible to receive DIC, will receive an additional payment to reduce or eliminate the off-set.

Reserve Retirement. Active duty military personnel are eligible for full retirement benefits after 20 years of active duty, regardless of their age. Reservists are also eligible to retire after 20 years of qualifying service but do not receive retired pay or access to retiree health benefits until age 60. Section 647 reduces the age for receipt of retired pay by three months for each aggregate of 90 days of "specified duty" performed in any fiscal year after the date the bill becomes law (January 28, 2008. "Specified duty" includes active duty (excluding active duty for training) or "active service" under Sections 688, 12301(a), 12301(d), 12302, 12304, 12305, and 12406 of Title 10, and Section 502(f) of Title 32, if responding to a national emergency declared by the President or supported by federal funds. The retired pay eligibility age cannot not be reduced below age 50, and eligibility for retiree health care benefits remain at age 60.

Reserve G. I. Bill. Under previous law, education benefits under the Selected Reserve Montgomery G. I. Bill (SRMGIB) ended ten years after completion of initial training (basic training and job training), or upon separation from the Reserves, whichever occurred first. Section 530 of the new bill increases the time period where a reservist may use SRMGIB benefits to ten years after separation from the Reserves, as long as the member's discharge characterization is honorable. This revision is backdated to October 28, 2004.

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